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Back to school for swimming star Schmitt

AP
In this July 31, 2012, file photo, the United States' Allison Schmitt holds her gold medal after winning the 200-meter freestyle swimming final at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. (AP)

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, 7:34 p.m.
 

ATHENS, Ga. — From Olympic star to just another college student.

For Allison Schmitt, there was hardly any time to savor her breakout performance at the London Games, where she won five medals in swimming. She had to get back to the University of Georgia for the start of her senior year.

“This is just a part of life,” she said Wednesday. “In London, we felt like we were in our own little world. But once you come back, it's back to real life.”

While many athletes were able to cash in on their triumphs, Schmitt, a Ross native, retained her amateur status so she could swim one more year for the Bulldogs. She's looking forward to competing in dual meets, the SEC championships and the NCAAs, even though some might view that as a bit anti-climactic after the Olympics.

“I love swimming for whatever is on my cap,” she said. “I'm honored to come back to Georgia for my last year swimming with a ‘G' on my cap.”

While overshadowed a bit by U.S. teammates such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin, Schmitt was right in their class when it came to results. She won three golds, a silver and a bronze — just as many medals as Lochte and Franklin. The only London athlete, in any sport, to win more was Phelps, who claimed four golds and two silvers in his farewell Olympics.

It's a bit overwhelming to Schmitt, especially the part about fellow students recognizing her on campus.

“Someone stopped me as I was walking to the bus and said, ‘Are you Allison Schmitt?' And I was like, ‘Yeah, that's me,' ” she said, chuckling. “Somebody came up to me in class and asked for a picture. It's kind of weird when people recognize me.”

Schmitt took a year off from school to prepare for the Olympics, moving to Baltimore to work with Phelps and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman.

“I wanted to concentrate without the distraction of classes and a college schedule,” she said. “I knew I had to focus solely on swimming.”

She never wavered on finishing college, even though she could've been in line for endorsements after her starring role in London.

“Schmitty is the consummate team player,” Georgia coach Jack Bauerle said. “I was always asked if she would come back, and there was never even a doubt about it.”

As for her medals, Schmitt is still trying to figure out a safe place to keep them. For now, she's been strolling around with one of her gold medals in her backpack.

“I don't go around and say, ‘Hey, check these out!' ” she said. “But with all the support I've had the past four years, if people ask to see them, I'm more than willing. They can hold them or try them on.”

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